Lookin' For Jesus In All The Wrong Places?

Text: Luke 2:40-52

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Mary and Joseph must have had a bit of anxiety that day when they realized Jesus was not with them.  Indeed, Mary and Joseph were traveling back home to Nazareth—a five days journey—from the large and yearly Passover Feast in Jerusalem, when they noticed that the twelve year old Jesus was nowhere to be found.  He was not among their relatives; He was not among their friends as well.    We can just imagine the thoughts racing through Mary’s head, “Where could He be? Did He travel on ahead or did He get left behind in Jerusalem?”

Well, as indicated by today’s Gospel reading, when it became apparent to Mary and Joseph that the young Jesus was not with them, they immediately returned back to Jerusalem to search for Him.  And search for Him they did. 

They searched for three days, looking with a great deal of distress and anxiety.  Over those three long days, most of Jerusalem was most likely combed; every rock was overturned, doors were knocked on, and people in the market were approached.  “Have you seen a young youth?  My Son is missing; He is only 12 years old!!”

I am sure that with each passing hour the angst of Mary and Joseph increased.   With each failed attempt of finding Jesus, their anxiety was most likely heightened.

Where can He be? 

Are we not searching hard enough?

Are we looking in the right places?     

All tension and anxiety dissipated though when they came to the temple in Jerusalem and found the young Jesus sitting among the teachers where He was listening to the teachings and asking questions. 

Like any decent mother, Mary then came to Jesus and said,

“Son, why have you treated us so?  Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.”

In response, we hear something quite remarkable from Jesus.  He said,

“Why were you looking for me?  Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

Take a moment to reconsider these words of Jesus, 

““Why were you looking for me?  Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

We get the impression here that Mary and Joseph were looking everywhere for Jesus, but failed to look in the most obvious place.  At least this was the most obvious place from Jesus’ perspective.  Otherwise stated, they should have known that Jesus was about God the Father’s business; they should’ve known that this is where Jesus was.  Why did they waste three days looking for Jesus when the most obvious place to find Him was in the temple?  Yes, it appears that Mary and Joseph searched everywhere, except the temple.  They searched for three days that is until they finally came to the temple, the place where the Word of grace was supposed to be taught and the place where the Son of God would obviously be. 

Now for us as twenty-first-century readers we hear this story and say to ourselves, “Well that makes sense!”  We say, “Duh, obviously that is where one would expect to find Jesus!”  However, let us not be too quick to place judgment upon Mary and Joseph, for I believe that much has not really changed since Mary and Joseph’s great three day seeking expedition.  In other words, where do we seek Jesus today?

It is amazing to do a simple internet Google search on the topic of, “Where can I find Jesus?”  All sorts of posts will pop up with all kinds of strategies to find Jesus.  Furthermore, the vast amount of posts will not only present strategies on finding Jesus today, but will also guide and direct a person to specific places where Jesus can be found.
Permit me to give two examples. 

Pope Francis recently stated that you and I won’t find Jesus by hanging out in a first-class lounge or in the library; we can’t find Jesus in peace and quietness, but rather we find Jesus by being out in the real world, be being involved with Him in the messy and noisy problems of the world.[1] 

On another website though, we are told that we need to leave the loud and busy world and go somewhere quiet where we can get on our knees.  Then and only then we are told to go deeply into ourselves with quiet meditation and prayer.  Once we have escaped the busyness of the world and the busyness of ourselves and are in deep peace and quietness, we can then wait and listen to hear Jesus talk to us in the inner caverns of our heart.[2]

Now, these are just two examples that give us guidance where we can find Jesus.  On the one hand we are told that Jesus is not found in the quietness and peace of a private setting, but in the busy noisy world.  On the other hand, we are told that we need to leave the busyness of the world to go to an unobtrusive place to find Jesus in the quiet meditations of our heart.  Which is it?  Is Jesus found in the quietness of our heart or in the busyness of the world?

Dear friends, like Mary and Joseph we can spend not only three days but up to three years and beyond trying to find Jesus in all the wrong places.  In other words, if we fail to understand who Jesus is and what His mission was, we can end up like Mary and Joseph searching in all the wrong places.  For example:

We can attempt to find Jesus in the busyness of the world.

We can attempt to find Jesus in the mystical caverns of our sinful heart.

We can attempt to find Jesus in the successes of life.

We can attempt to find Jesus in the popular spiritual fads of the day.

We can attempt to find Jesus on a lake while fishing.

The list can most certainly go on and on and on.

The problem with all of these options is that none of these places are places where the Lord has promised to meet us.  Truly, my dear friends, you do not need to wander aimlessly through life constantly trying to find Christ.  You do not need to be distracted by every single new spiritual guru that comes out every two years on Oprah; those gurus that claim that they have found the secrets to finding God.  You do not need withdraw from the church and look within the layers of complexity in your heart to find Jesus.  You do not have to leave your present jobs and callings in order to venture out on hyper-spiritualized humanitarian objectives to find Jesus.  No, none of this is necessary in seeking and finding Jesus, for although our Sovereign Lord is over all things, He has not promised to meet us with grace, forgiveness, and peace in any of these places. 

But where shall we find Christ?  Where shall we find Christ when we need Him the most?  The scriptures answer you and me saying, “He is on the cross, where you need him the most.  There [on the Cross] Jesus fulfilled God’s promise for you: ‘Neither death, nor life … nor anything else … will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  There we discover ‘in all things God works for the good of those who love him and who have been called according to his purpose.’”[3]  Furthermore, despite all of the seeking for peace and assurance in all the wrong places, the Lord Christ has promised us that the benefits of Calvary’s Cross are with us.  Yes, the benefits of the Cross—forgiveness, grace, peace, and assurance—are with us specifically in His Word and Sacraments. 

What does this all mean?  It means that Jesus is right where one might expect to find Him.  He is in the waters of your baptism.  He is present in His precious Word—the Bible.  He is present in-with-and-under the bread and wine that is given to and for you. 

Baptized Saints, as we think about this, I do confess that this may not sound flashy and exciting.  In fact, to acknowledge and proclaim that Christ is present before you where He has promised to be in the Word and Sacraments, can take the fun out of the spiritual seeking game.  Otherwise stated, as the world attempts to find Jesus and eternal peace in movements and fads, and as the world attempts to find Jesus and eternal peace in mystical meditations, you may be tempted to the thrill of their chase and the excitement of their trying to find the hidden location of the treasure of peace.  Hold steadfast though dear Saints.  Do not embark on a wild goose chase seeking for Jesus where He has not promised to be. 

My fellow redeemed, “Jesus Christ’s life-giving ministry of Word and Sacrament, which He has entrusted to us as His stewards, is what makes disciples of all nations and ages.  This Word and Sacrament ministry of the very Word made flesh is the only thing that bestows true life, peace, and forgiveness.”[4]  But we may say to ourselves, ‘”That isn’t too flashy or exciting or even successful according to today’s standards.”  Baptized saints please keep in mind that, “Success in God’s eyes is not understood in terms of simply having more names on a roster, more bodies filling seats, or more dollars in the offering plate.”[5]  Success in God’s eyes is not about seeking the Lord in vague happenings of culture or seeking Him in the inclinations of the sinful heart.  But rather, “Success in God’s eyes is simply grounded in the faithful proclamation that we have all sinned and we have all rightfully earned death and damnation for our sin, but Jesus Christ Himself has already made full atonement for each and every sin by laying down His life on a bloody cross as an all-redeeming, all-forgiving sacrifice. Success in God’s eyes is simply understood in terms [of people being] where Christ is, [where He has promised to be for you and for me].”[6] 

As we look forward to 2015, what will 2015 bring for you and me?  While you and I can't say for sure, I am fairly certain that we will all experience our fair share of heartaches, as well as joys.  We will experience ups and down.  We will take turns that we will never have expected and travel into unforeseen territory.  In the midst of everything that 2015 will bring upon us though, I am happy to announce that the Lord and His Gifts will be here for you and for me, right where we can expect them to be.  That is right, the Lord's Word and Sacraments, which have been that constant source of hope, sustenance, and strength over the past year, will also be present for you and for me in 2015.  The reason why?  The Lord has promised to neither leave us nor forsake us; He will be with us to the end of the age in this church, in our baptisms, in the Word, and in the Supper.

May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] “Pope Francis: Get out in the real world to find Jesus,” (26 September 2013) http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2013/09/26/pope-francis-get-out-in-the-real-world-to-find-jesus/ (3 January 2015).

[2] “How to Seek the Presence of Jesus Christ in your Life,” http://www.wikihow.com/Seek-the-Presence-of-Jesus-Christ-in-your-Life (3 January 2015).

[3] Richard Eyer, Pastoral Care Under the Cross: God in the Midst of Suffering (Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1994), 143.

[4] Jason Zirbel, “Seeking Christ? Well, Duh!” (4 January 2015) http://lcmssermons.com/index.php?sn=3996 (3 January 2015).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

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